BUFFLAO, NY (WKBW) — One day before a new bishop will be installed as the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, a leaked transcript reveals the diocese may have been trying to bypass the Child Victims Act.
Some are now accusing the church of putting money before victims.
“Just another way for the church to keep things silent,” declared Kevin Koscielniak, survivor, founder Buffalo Survivors Group.
He's responding to an ABC News exclusive report that cites a confidential transcript from a December 2017 meeting involving lawyers for the Buffalo Diocese and others.
It raises questions about whether New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan was trying to block New York's Child Victims Act from becoming law – a law that has resulted in dozens of settlements for victims of sex abuse by priests in the Buffalo Diocese.
The meeting discussed the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which was introduced to the Buffalo Diocesein 2016 as a way for sex abuse survivors to receive a payout.
At the time, Dolan said it would promote “healing” for those abused.
“Every step they've taken along the way in this has been a step to protect money,” stated Steve Boyd, Buffalo attorney.
Boyd represents a few hundred people who filed under the Child Victims Act.
He said it was Cardinal Dolan's intention not to heal, but rather to use the program to make victims go away.
“His goal was to settle as cheaply as possible and get rid of these claims because he wanted to be able to go to the state legislature and say look — don't do a child victims act — we're taking care of it on our own,” Boyd explained.
“They never wanted the Child Victims Act to come forward because it was going to start to reveal and give myself and other survivors the opportunity to get the truth,” Koscielniak reflected.
The transcript obtained by ABC is from a teleconference that included lawyers from the diocese of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.
They were told that Cardinal Dolan was quote "worried" the state was close to passing the Child Victims Act.
It also revealed suggested settlement amounts the church offered victims, for example it was suggested $5,000 for Buffalo.
But victims who agreed to the settlements at that time could not pursue a future lawsuit against the diocese.
“There's no way I was going to sign anything to say that I could not move forward with any lawsuit,” replied Koscielniak.
“These survivors were up against this program that was pitched as some kind of promise to help them?” Buckley asked Boyd.
“That’s right and I think that — it’s not like any other type of arbitration — or mediation — where it’s one business person against another business — it is the force of the church and a lot of the survivors — they took those settlements,” responded Boyd.
Now the Buffalo Diocese is bankrupt and all the cases are in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
“If they protected children — ten percent as they protected money — they'd have more money and we couldn't be here,” Boyd remarked.
We reached out to the diocese for comment and received a written statement:
"We have only read the news reports, like others and cannot speak to the veracity of the account reported. The Diocese of Buffalo, soon to be under the leadership of Bishop Michael Fisher, is determined to do everything possible to bring about healing and resolution for those who have been harmed in the past and who await some sense of justice as part of the Chapter 11 process. Again, the aim of the Chapter 11 proceedings is to enable the largest number of victim-survivors to realize restitution for the harm they have experienced, while still enabling the Diocese to carry out its vital mission across Western New York."
Cardinal Dolan is scheduled to be in Buffalo Friday at St. Joseph Cathedral for the installation of newly appointed Bishop Michael Fisher.
But the founder of the Buffalo Survivors Group says they are not feeling positive about the new bishop.
Koscielniak says the only one who can bring this to an end is Pope Francis — by revealing the truth.